By Luke Allen, Rights and Resources Initiative (RRI)
Companies seeking lands for investment, governments encouraging such investment, and Indigenous Peoples and local communities who live and depend on the lands in question have come into conflict for decades. Indigenous Peoples and local communities have customary rights to over half the world’s land, but legally own just 10 percent. When governments lease or sell their lands to investors without the consent of communities, the resulting disputes can devastate local lives and livelihoods.
Many companies and investors have realized that insecure tenure rights pose a threat not only to their reputations, but also to their bottom lines. A report produced by RRI and TMP Systems found that work stoppages caused by disputes between companies and communities can increase operating costs by as much as 29 times. Research on the impact of these conflicts in Africa has borne out this finding: such conflict harms communities and companies alike. A growing number of companies and investors recognize these risks, and have therefore pledged to respect community land rights.
Yet as investors and corporations push into ever more remote areas in search of lands for agribusiness, oil and gas exploration, infrastructure, and renewables, forward-thinking actors are confronted with the difficulty of implementing these ambitious commitments across numerous suppliers and the sprawling global supply chains they have created.
As a result, there is a real hunger for solutions to the global crisis of insecure tenure from progressive private sector actors. Some of these companies and investors are working with their peers and the broader land rights community to address the risks of insecure tenure as well as influence their suppliers to respect rights.
Growing interest in initiatives such as the Interlaken Group–an informal group where leaders from progressive companies, investors, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples’ organizations can work together toward finding common solutions to the crisis of insecure community land rights—demonstrates that key companies, investors, and development finance institutions are looking for ways to improve respect for land rights in their operations. The Group has produced guidance for companies to align their operations with the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure, as well as companion guidance on dealing with legacy land issues. Such tools—which provide companies and investors with a roadmap for respecting land rights—are a byproduct of the Interlaken Group’s unique dialogue. Indeed, one of the key findings of the Group is that in spite of having interests that may seem largely at odds with one another, these actors nonetheless can find common ground when they are given a space for candid exchange.
The third international conference on community land and resource rights, “Reducing Inequality in a Turbulent world: Scaling-up strategies to secure indigenous, community, and women’s land rights,” presents an unparalleled opportunity for further dialogue and collaboration on private sector efforts to respect land rights. The conference, which will take place in Stockholm October 4-5, 2017, will present representatives from companies, institutional investors, and development finance institutions an opportunity to engage with influential actors from government, civil society, and indigenous and community organizations on best practices for respecting land rights.
Several panels will consider the private sector’s role in addressing inequality and implementing respect for land rights in company operations and due diligence processes for investors, including a panel on companies who have shifted their operations to respect land rights, and what lessons can be drawn from their experiences. The discussion will focus on how to expand and leverage these promising, initial efforts.
Representatives from companies and investors will also participate in sessions on rural and indigenous women’s rights; strategies and mechanisms to scale-up implementation of rights recognition from the local to national level; and connecting and leveraging international support structures to advance indigenous and community land rights. These representatives will both share perspectives from the private sector and benefit from the insights of colleagues who are engaged with the struggle for secure tenure on the ground. If the global community is to succeed in scaling up recognition of secure community and indigenous land rights, the private sector must be a key part of this effort.